OSHA cites Tribe Mediterranean Foods following death of Fall River man at Taunton plant
The Taunton-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods faces $702,300 in proposed fines following an investigation into the workplace death of a Fall River man last year. Daniel Collazo Torres, 28, a Fall River resident, was crushed to death on Dec. 16, 2011 while cleaning and sanitizing a machine used to manufacture hummus at Tribe's Taunton plant.The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced Monday that it is citing Tribe Mediterranean Foods for 18 alleged violations of federal workplace safety standards.
OSHA issued a statement on Monday saying that Tribe employees, including Collazo Torres, lacked the necessary training to prevent the "needless and avoidable loss of life."
Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels harshly condemned the hummus company, claiming it was aware that workers like Collazo Torres needed this training to prevent deadly incidents, but didn't provide the training anyways.
“The employer knew it needed to train these workers so they could protect themselves against just this type of hazard but failed to do so," Michaels said. “In this case, Tribe Mediterranean Foods’ knowledge and continuous disregard for an obvious and deadly hazard was so pronounced that we are issuing seven willful citations for lack of training, one for each untrained worker exposed to the hazard.”
Collazo Torres worked overnight cleaning up equipment at Tribe. Police were alerted about his body being pulled into the hummus machine and crushed between two rotating augers at 1 a.m. on the night of his death.
Tribe briefly shut down its Taunton manufacturing and operations divisions, while authorities continued to investigate, but the company continues to churn out its line of chickpea-based hummus spread, along with other vegetarian products that are made at the 110 Prince Henry Drive facility located inside of the Myles Standish Industrial Park.
Attempts to contact Collazo Torres's family have been unsuccessful.
Collazo Torres was originally from Puerto Rico. Death records at Fall River City Hall show that the body of Collazo Torres was brought to his his island home for burial, and that he has a brother who has lived on East Rolling Green Drive in Fall River.
On Monday, OSHA concluded that Tribe committed a total of 18 violations of workplace safety standards at its Taunton production plant. OSHA’s South Boston Area Office inspected the plant and opened an investigation on the day of Collazo Torres's death.
In addition to a lack of training violation connected to Collazo Torres's death, OSHA said, six others workers who cleaned plant machinery were not trained on hazardous energy control or so-called lockout, or tagout, procedures.
"These are the procedures employers must put into effect and train workers to follow to shut down machines and lock out their power sources before cleaning or performing maintenance on them," the OSHA statement said. "The purpose of lockout/tagout procedures is to ensure that the machines are not operating, and cannot unexpectedly activate and harm workers. OSHA requires that employers train workers so that they understand the purpose of the energy control procedures, and have the knowledge and skills required to safely utilize them."
Tribe gave a statement saying the company is reviewing the citations, but declined answer questions or offer anything further
"Tribe Mediterranean Foods, Inc. deeply regrets the accident that occurred in December 2011, and remains committed to the health and safety of all of its employees," statement said. "Tribe is currently reviewing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's findings and has no further comments at this time."
Tribe Mediterranean Foods is a subsidiary of Tivall vegetarian foods, which is owned by the Israel-based Osem Investments Limited, a subsidiary of Nestle. The Osem Group of companies produces and distributes certified-kosher food products in Israel, Europe and the United States.
Tribe has 15 business days to comply with or contest OSHA's findings before the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, an independent federal agency. OSHA safety violations fall under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, a federal law passed to make employers provide safety workplaces for workers.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) said that one important aspect to the story is that Collazo Torres was actually a temporary worker. Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of MassCOSH, said that while Tribe deserves punishment for failing to meet workplace safety standards, the temporary worker agency also needs to be held accountable.
"So many temporary employees fall through cracks in terms of labor violations," Goldstein-Gelb said. "The temp agency industry is just not regulated in our state. What happens is some companies utilize temporary agencies as intermediaries rather than employing workers directly. Too often there is an awful lot of labor violations that take place when temporary agencies are involved, and companies are pointing fingers instead of taking responsibility."
Goldstein-Gelb said Fall River-based Monroe Staffers hired Collazo Torres. A manager at the agency was not immediately available Monday night.
Goldstein-Gelb said she "couldn't speak for this specific temp agency, but said temp agencies in general need to be cognizant of the hazards their current employees are involved with and there needs to be transparency when it comes to safety regulations and temp workers. She said this case is another reason that House Bill 4076 needs to be passed by the legislature to provide "some modicum of regulation" on the temporary worker agencies.
In addition to the seven "willful citations" given to Tribe for lack of training among the cleaning crew, OSHA also issued Tribe Mediterranean Foods for two additional willful citations for failing to adequately train maintenance workers to recognize hazardous energy sources and for failing to develop and utilize any lockout/tagout procedures.
Citations for three "repeat violations" have also been issued for failing to conduct periodic inspections of the energy control procedures, inadequate guarding of rotating blades on blending tanks, and an exposed chain and sprocket on a conveyor.
A repeat violation can be cited when an employer previously has been cited for the same or a similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any facility in federal enforcement states within the last five years. OSHA said it cited Tribe before, doing business as FoodTech International Inc., in October 2009, for similar hazards at its New Haven, Conn., plant.
Also, Tribe was issued citations covering six "serious violations" for "electrical, slipping, fall, pallet jack and additional machine guarding hazards." OSHA said a violation is classified as "serious" when there is "substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known."
OSHA said that "due to the willful and repeat violations and the nature of the hazards," Tribe was placed in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which mandates targeted follow-up inspections to ensure compliance with the law.
"When there is a particularly egregious lack of compliance and exposure to hazards, OSHA can issue citations on a per-instance basis, in this case, representing one willful violation for each untrained employee exposed to a hazard," the OSHA statement said. "The (Severe Violator Enforcement Program) focuses on recalcitrant employers that endanger workers by committing certain willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations."
Contact Marc Larocque at firstname.lastname@example.org